It’s been a week since “Lesbian Author, Cheril N. Clarke, Reveals How She Keeps it Hot in Her Marriage” was published on Examiner.com and I’ve had some time to mull over the great responses to it (blog posts in this section will come from either of us or both, but Cheril is writing this time). When the interviewer initially contacted me I had no qualms about granting the request. After I’d read over her questions, I was happy I’d accepted. You see, I’ve done tons of interviews over the years and one thing that would always put a damper on the opportunity was realizing the journalist or blogger was going to ask me the same questions I’ve been asked over and over. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the press, but those instances never gave me a time to go beyond the surface. This time, I was able to go a little deeper. Reveal a little more. Pull back the curtain and give a glimpse of how Monica and I created our union. And as promised on my Facebook page, here is the first follow-up to the article mentioned above.
4 Things You Need to Do before You Get Married
1. Take the time to be engaged
After the excitement of “she said yes” has settled in, it’s time to get to work. It’s time to start planning your marriage, not just your wedding. For us, this was built-in. We had a long commute—almost 2 hours each way to work every day. We’d bought our first home in southern NJ, but still had north Jersey and NYC jobs. In hindsight, there was already a ton of trust there because we bought a house together before tying the knot! Anyway, for a year and a half, we spent almost four hours a day together in the car. That’s a lot of time to get to know each other. On the few mornings where we had disagreements it was impractical for us to remain upset for the whole ride. We were forced to talk. To say what’s wrong. To figure out how to fix it. There was no “I don’t feel like talking about it so I’m leaving,” not unless one of us was willing to walk the length of the New Jersey turnpike. Lol We couldn’t punk out of hard conversations.
Monica and I covered every topic. We had to make sure we were just as in love with the idea of marriage as the work needed to actually make it work. Do you really foresee yourself being able to love your partner through it all or are you just in love with the thought of living happily ever after? If the latter, back up and think again. Happily ever after is by design and action, not by chance.
A few things that you and your mate should have deep conversations about during your engagement are:
- Core values. How do you feel about life in general? Are you both dream chasers or is one of you pessimistic (a dreamer and a dream killer will not work)? You have to be compatible. What about religious beliefs – do you share a common one or do you have different ones? If the latter, can you promise to be open minded and respectful of the other’s worship habits (or lack of) for the long term?
- Your relationship with your respective families. Whether you like it or not, marrying someone will get you a new family. You should make an effort to spend more time with them along the way too. This is where you’ll learn if your spouse-to-be will cave in every time her mother or father pressures her to do something—if she thinks for herself or is lead by the opinions of her relatives. If there are old wounds with one of your families then lots of talking on this topic needs to happen because that’s a form of baggage that will be brought into your marriage. Figure out how to make relationships healthy all around or pull back from them as much as possible. You can’t be surrounded by chaos and expect to live in bliss.
- Desire for children. Do you both want them or no? Is there wiggle room if you clash? If you want them, WHY do you want them? Is it because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do based on cultural rules or because you’re really ready to sacrifice a quarter of your life and at least $250k (over time) to raise them? Are you willing to foster first to get a real feel or do you want to just jump right in 18+ years and all? Much more on this topic later because kids will come up many times after you get married.
- Sexual fluidity and gender expression. These are two different things. One is more about sexuality and sexual desires. The other is about identity–masculine/feminine expression. You must be willing to talk about these two repeatedly over the years. You must be willing to talk about these two repeatedly over the years. You must be willing….okay, I think you get the point! The openness of sexuality, the understanding that it’s fluid, and the possibility for gender identity issues are more likely to be expressed openly in a same-sex union than in a straight one (that is not to say individuals in hetero relationships don’t have the same issues, just that [IMO] they’re less likely to bring it up because they’re in their own kind of a box defining “man and wife”). It’s a lot easier for a woman in a lesbian relationship to say she wants to wear boxers than a man in a hetero relationship to say he wants to wear panties. Follow me? Cool. Ask yourselves if you’re willing to let your partner explore her desires and identity? What if there is a period where one feels borderline trans–can you handle it and be supportive (even if the feeling is fleeting)? Can you accept that both of those my change again in five years? Will you give her room to ebb and flow in this department? You can if you want to, but you have to talk about it respectfully and at the right time for the one who may feel a little uncomfortable about this new layer, this evolution of self.
There is a lot more that can and should be discussed during this time period, but the ones mentioned above are good starting points. And please, if you can, live together for a period of time before jumping the broom. You don’t need to buy a house together like we did but sharing an apartment will show you who you’re really about to deal with for years to come. You never really know a person until you live with her (or him). This may be harder for older couples who already own their own properties so do the best you can with it.
2. Both of you need to be strong and emotionally mature before you say I do
Emotionally mature means having a great sense of self-awareness. That means understanding why you behave the way you do and how you’re perceived by others. It means mastering your emotions so that you take the time to figure out the appropriate (logical) response instead of just reacting to external stimulants. If this is a weak spot for one of both of you, now is the time to start investing in your mind. Read/listen to either of the following classic books:
There are too many people out there who have no idea that they can train themselves to respond to all kinds of situations by simply practicing control/thoughtful responses. You have to slow down to do this. It takes time, especially since most of us grew up in environments that did not encourage asking questions or digging deep to understand WHY we feel and act the way we do.
You don’t have to be a dramatic person, a depressed person, an angry person, or a “well, that’s just the way I am” kind of person. Who the hell wants to work with that forever? There is nothing normal about arguing all the time. It may be common and all you’ve ever seen, but I don’t think it should be normal. People can’t possibly want constant stress and chaos. Eeww.There’s no reason to live like that! Learn how to improve yourself. You can be whoever you want to be if you’re willing to invest the time to learn how to change and grow. This takes courage. It means admitting some character weaknesses and committing to working on them.
3. Marriage isn’t about you, it’s about your spouse
Yes, we should seek fulfillment in marriage, but we have to understand that making it work often means falling back and putting the needs of our spouse up front. If both of you are doing this then your needs should be met in the end. You can’t expect to win every time. You’re going to need to just be quiet sometimes and give her some space. You’ll have to get out of your feelings and learn what feeling loved means to her. There’s this book.
I’ve never read it, but I’ve heard great things about it and based on the summary I’m inclined to agree with the author. We all feel love differently. For Monica, it’s hearing those three words a lot, surprise gifts and attention to detail. For me, it’s physical affection, thoughtful meals and a respect of my alone time. All of it is in the spirit of love but we feel it differently.
I didn’t hear “I love you” a lot as a child, but I knew I was loved because there was food on the table. The utilities were never shut off and though I didn’t have name brand stuff, I was well taken care of. To me, that’s love—being taken care of. Even though it’s great to hear the words, I won’t feel any way if I don’t hear them all the time. Just surprise me with dinner. Hell, fold my clothes and leave me alone for the first 30 minutes after I get home. Monica on the other hand is really big on hearing the words. It means more to her so I had to train myself to not always respond, “me too” when she said “I love you” to me. It felt weird for a long time because that phrase just wasn’t embedded in my vocabulary like it was in hers. I got used to it.
So when your partner says she’s not feeling loved—-don’t interpret it with the way you feel loved (“but I tell you I love you every day!”), think about how it’s best to show it for her. Maybe filling up her tank and leaving a gift on the seat of her car would make her feel it more. Figure out what works for both of you and do it.
4. Understand that forever is a long time and people change
Two years after Monica and I got together she got sick. We went to doctor after doctor, specialist after specialist and no one knew what was wrong. All of her tests came back “normal,” but she had pain everywhere and over time, had trouble walking. At one point a rheumatologist suggested it was fibromyalgia, another doctor said, “no, it’s polymyositis.” The list went on and on and so did the tests, “treatments” and costs. Neither of us saw this coming and it was a lot to deal with for a young couple. We had family within a couple hours’ drive and they came down to help but for the most part it was just the two of us. It was me taking care of her while trying to hold myself together under the pressure of not really knowing what was wrong and what it meant for us.
Of all the medication the doctors had tried, they settled on a steroid to help assuage the pain. This came with the side affect of drastic weight gain. She went from 135lbs to 199. She wasn’t just sitting around eating before the wedding. And many don’t know this but at one point Monica was close to being in a wheelchair (she did need a cane for a little while), but she fought it. She refused. She would NOT let that scale tip to 200. And she would not let some mystery muscle pains shut her down. Monica took her health into her own hands when it was clear all the doctors had no idea what was wrong with her and were just throwing medication at the problem. After all of that weight gain and other effects she still wasn’t “cured” (she’ll blog about that on her own in a few months, it’s been a long journey to health). I say all of that to ask, are you committed enough to help your partner when she can’t help herself—when she needs help getting around, getting dressed, taking a bath?
Monica still mentions how happy she is that I stayed to which I respond, where the hell was I going to go? She was and still is my BEST FRIEND. She’s the reason I’ve blossomed into who I am today, and my love would not end because things were taking an unforeseen turn. You’ve got to be ready to deal with this kind of stuff because life will hit you over the head with problems you’ve never dreamed of!
Sometimes one of you will suffer from an unforeseen illness and need a lot of time and therapy (whether clinical or just talking with each other) before you can heal from it. Life happens.
Sometimes mental health issues, whether anxiety, stress, PTSD, etc. are just as overwhelmingly an issue as physical health. You have to be ready to recognize the signs of this and search for solutions. You have to help each other get through.
Sometimes you will not have sex for long stretches and there’s nothing you can do about it. Get over it and stay strong. Women and hormones is a whole different topic.
Sometimes you will have opposing schedules and hardly get to see each other. Hunker down and find ways to manage. Look for examples of others who have done it, but if you can’t find one then be the example for someone else. For a while we had a commuter marriage in which she was in an apartment in north Jersey a few days a week while I was at our house with our dogs. It was dreadful and we used the hell out of Skype to get through it. (For what we were spending on gas, toll, etc. it made more sense to get a little apartment and remove the stress of driving 4 hours a day by herself. Monica was a Vice President at a finance firm and financially it made sense to stay at that company, but that was before we decided that time was more important than a big paycheck and corporate titles. We had a mortgage AND rent – all in the name of experimenting to see what worked best. But we hated being apart so we got rid of her apartment and went back to the drive.) She eventually quit that job and is doing so much better health, and surprisingly, income wise. More on that journey later.
This entry was much longer than I intended it to be, but I didn’t want to just gloss over these points. I wanted to really explain how much thought needs to go into such a serious commitment. You need more than love. You need a plan. You need a vision. You need the will and creativity to create the kind of marriage you want. If you could fast forward to the future and see your 50th anniversary, what words would be said about your union? That you traveled the world, you chased our dreams, you opened a business, you made it through economic hardship, etc.? Visualize it and come back to the present to write it down. Once you’ve written it down, start your journey. You won’t need to keep figuring out how to solve problems if you define what you want in the early days. A successful marriage is a journey. It’s a goal. Ask yourselves, what kind of people do you need to become in order to have the life you want? What do we need to do? Then go and do it. That’s it. It’s all about thinking, planning and doing. After you’re on solid ground emotionally and financially, your marriage is only limited to your imagination and discipline.
Think deeply. Plan wisely. Live happily.
Thank you for reading this blog and I hope it helps you on your path. If you feel that it was helpful, please take a moment to comment and/or share below.
Until next time…